Do they have the suspect van?

Case of missing girl heats up

July 11, 2007 

A sex offender whose home and van were searched Sunday and Monday hasn’t been eliminated as a suspect in the July Fourth disappearance of 12-year-old Zina Linnik, Tacoma police said Tuesday.

“We can’t say that he’s the one,” said police spokesman Mark Fulghum. “But we still haven’t been able to eliminate him from any involvement.”

Fulghum wouldn’t say whether the man was connected to a tip that led police to the Tiger Mountain area in Issaquah on Tuesday.

The search of the Parkland home where the 42-year-old man was staying yielded “girl’s undergarments,” among other items, according to search warrant records.

No further description appears – nothing about the size, labels or other identifiers. Fulghum said he didn’t know about the discovery until late Tuesday afternoon, when a reporter asked him about it.

An affidavit filed by police states that the license plate number of the van closely resembled the partial plate description Zina’s father gave to police after her apparent abduction near an alley behind her Hilltop home.

When police found the van, it had a different license plate. The man admitted to police that he changed it, records say.

Federal authorities have detained the man for unspecified immigration violations, said Lorie Dankers, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Dankers said she couldn’t disclose the nature of the violations.

Court documents filed Tuesday in Pierce County Superior Court charged the man with failure to register as a sex offender, noting his 1990 conviction for first-degree incest in Pierce County.

The News Tribune isn’t naming the man because he hasn’t been charged with a crime related to Zina’s disappearance. When police questioned him, he denied any involvement, and said he wasn’t in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood on July Fourth.

Police spoke to two people who had dinner with the man July Fourth at a Parkland house. They said they were with him from about 7 to 9 p.m. He left after that, they said.

Zina disappeared about 9:45 p.m., police say. She was last seen in the alley near her family’s home in the 2500 block of South J Street in Tacoma.

Zina’s father, Mikhail, told police he saw an older gray van parked in the alley. He recalled seeing the numbers 677 or 667 in the license plate and possibly the letter B before the van drove away. A few minutes later, he found a flip-flop sandal on the pavement near where the van had been parked. The sandal was the same type his daughter had been wearing, court records say.

An unnamed neighbor who lived near the alley told police he also saw a gray van around the time Zina disappeared, according to the search warrant records. The neighbor heard “a scream of pain” from the alley and looked out, but the van was gone.

Friday, a police detective conducted a computer search, seeking prior police reports linked to vans fitting the description given by Mikhail Linnik. The detective found one report from May 1 of this year that led to the Parkland house, the sex offender and his van.

Court records say the report was a vehicle prowl complaint, reported by someone who used to work for the van’s owner and sometimes drove the vehicle to work. The listed license plate of the van included the characters 667B. State vehicle registration records revealed the owner’s name, records state.

Detectives found the van and the owner Sunday at the Parkland address, but the van had a different license plate. The man appeared to notice detectives watching him from an unmarked car, and walked away from the house, records state.

Detectives stopped the man. When they questioned him, he admitted switching the plates a few days earlier, according to the records. He said the original plates had been stolen several months earlier and that he couldn’t afford to buy new ones, so he took plates from another vehicle.

Police found no one else living in the home, according to the records. The man said the house belonged to his sister, and that he’d been living there while remodeling it. Detectives found few furnishings inside, and evidence of remodeling, including bags of concrete mix and fresh wallboard.

Tip leads investigators to Tiger Mountain area

Investigators combed an area near Tiger Mountain summit in King County on Tuesday, searching for clues in the disappearance of 12-year-old Zina Linnik, who vanished on the Fourth of July from an alley behind her Tacoma Hilltop home.

Tacoma police spokesman Mark Fulghum said search and rescue units from King and Pierce counties, plus Tacoma police, began looking in the area near the Tiger Mountain summit before 8 a.m.

Ten dog teams were deployed at the outset. But several had to take a break from the heat as the temperature climbed, Fulghum said.

The search involved about 40 people.

“They’re spread pretty far and wide,” Fulghum said.

Authorities blocked access to a state park in the area.

Fulghum said a tip led authorities to the area.

He wouldn’t divulge further details, except to say it didn’t involve a sighting of the van investigators have been looking for.

Susan Gordon, The News Tribune

IF YOU’VE SEEN HER

Zina Linnik is 4 feet 10 inches tall, 80 pounds and has blond hair. She was last seen wearing a pink T-shirt, pink-orange-and-yellow capri pants and flip-flop sandals.

Anyone with information about Zina’s disappearance or whereabouts is urged to call Tacoma police at 253-830-6508 or visit www.washingtonamberalert.com.

There is a $16,000 reward for information in the case.

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